Consumer behavior research suggests that trust is essential to forming an intention to purchase. When trust is high, people are much more likely to take risks and engage in trade. In traditional business contexts, trust emerges and evolves in a physical space, and between two or more people interacting in person. But in the e-commerce setting, a prospective customer usually does not have any such contact, and so they must rely entirely on the digital experience. So, how exactly does consumer trust emerge online? Researchers have tried to provide an exact answer to this question, one rooted in deliberative cognitive processes. They use decision models to describe sets of logical factors related to the formation of purchase intentions, such as an individual’s preexisting disposition to trust (it turns out that some people are naturally more trusting than others) or a website’s structural assurances (such as indicators of strong encryption and security, privacy policies, and return guarantees). Deliberative processes assume strong causal relationships, hard constraints, and that people expend explicit cognitive effort as they make their trust assessments. While the notion of deliberative models is appealing, it does not explain research showing that many visitors ignore “hard” factors such as privacy and security policies, while being influenced by seemingly insignificant factors such as font styles and colors. Thus we were curious: Is it possible that online consumers also rely on less deliberative, “fuzzy,” instinctual processes, such as those commonly used in interpersonal trust situations? Could it be that online shoppers actually commit very little explicit cognitive effort when making the decision about whether to trust a website? Get the full story at Harvard Business Review